JESUS AND THE GENTILES
In Isaiah 42:1–6, there is a prophecy about Jesus. It is known to be a prophecy of Jesus because Matthew, in his Gospel, quotes it, “That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying,” … (Matthew 12:17).
There are plenty of prophecies in the Old Testament which were pointing to Christ’s first coming. “And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.” (Luke 24:44). And, “Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures” (verse 45).
But the writings in the Old Testament, including prophecies, were not just about Jesus’ first coming. This is indicated in Romans 15:4, “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” Many other verses likewise agree, that the Scripture is for us, and relates to things regarding us.
However, the writings cannot relate to us unless we are connected to them through Jesus Christ. The central theme and focus is that it goes from the Old Testament, via or because of Christ, to all. The nations are the focus of God’s plan. “But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith” (Romans 16:26).
It is no coincidence that the promises of the Old Testament and what happened through the New Testament are really part of a focus to bring the Gospel worldwide.
“Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles.” (Isaiah 42:1).
Who is this servant? Matthew 12:17 makes it clear that this passage is speaking about Jesus, in that he was healing folks, and told them not to publicise him (in verses 15 and 16). So, then, it is right to conclude that Isaiah must have been prophesying about Jesus.
But when comparing the words between Isaiah 42:1 and Matthew 12:18, there are differences, “Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall shew judgment to the Gentiles.” (Matthew 12:18). Isaiah has “elect” but Matthew has “chosen”. What does this mean?
The written book of Isaiah was inspired. That means that God’s spirit (i.e. spiritual power) was put into those words by the Holy Ghost. Those words were inerrant, infallible words. The same thing happened again with the New Testament. Thus, we are not reading merely the human words of Isaiah and then of Matthew, but rather, the Holy Ghost’s words in the Book of Isaiah, and in the Book of Matthew. The Holy Ghost being free to interpret in His quotation of Isaiah in Matthew, and thus, giving rise to what would appear to be differences. These are not contradictory, but complementary information.
Obviously, some terminology should be considered broadly synonymous, so that “elect” and “chosen” have significant conceptual overlap. But the last part of the verse is where a difference comes in that yields additional information.
Isaiah states, “he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles”, but Matthew (by the Holy Ghost) has, “and he shall shew judgment to the Gentiles.” To bring forth could mean 1. to supply, and 2. to bring to pass. To show could mean 1. to reveal, and 2. to manifest. So, if taken together, the judgment is to be supplied, made to be understood and known, seen to occur and have results.
The question then comes to whether this is a positive or a negative, or double sided. Judgment literally implies the law of God, and literally implies carrying out things accordingly. The promises of good, or the punishment onto evil, or both.
The commentators agree that the meaning is the carrying out of the Gospel, that it is the furthering of the New Testament even to the Gentiles which is intended. They say it is prophetic of the Gospel reaching and changing pagan nations.
Now, if Jesus never really left the localised confines of Israel, and never really ministered to anyone by the Jews, how could it be said that the Gospel progress so mightily to the Gentiles by Jesus Christ? After all, Jesus confessed that He was not focused on the Gentiles in His earthly ministry (see Matthew 10:5, 6; 15:24).
So, then, the prophecy of Isaiah must reach beyond Christ’s personal ministry, to when the Church did reach the Gentiles. So likewise, when Matthew is quoting that passage, it cannot mean that Jesus was reaching the Gentiles then, but was looking forward to when the ministry of Jesus would be reaching the Gentiles.
The fact is that in the lifetime of the Apostles, the Gospel did reach out to the Gentiles, and in the fourth century, the Roman Empire was converted (by 395 AD). But the progress of the Gospel did not finish then.
It must be very firmly established how Jesus Christ was reaching the Gentiles, since He ascended back to Heaven. This can be identified in two ways.
First, by the Church as the body of Christ. That is, believers as a whole, are likened to being the hands and feet and parts of the body of Christ, as it were, acting through history. By this means, Jesus is speaking to the world (see 1 Cor. 12:27).
Second, by the Scripture, the words of Jesus written, and them being carried forth in preached, is Jesus preaching to the nations.
Thirdly, the Spirit of God, the Holy Ghost, is representing Jesus in the Earth. And while He speaks to men’s consciences, the ministry of the Holy Ghost is really through the Church, and is backing up and following the word, that is, the Scripture — the Bible.
So then, when it says of the ministry of Jesus, “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:13). Believers are now in Christ, in His body, because Jesus, “came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.” (Ephesians 2:17). How did Jesus preach to those at Ephesus? How does He preach to the Gentiles today?
It is by the Church, by ministers. So then, ministers preach the words of God and the words of Jesus are in the Bible. And these believers do so empowered by the Holy Ghost, Who is representing Jesus Christ on Earth today.
God has reached out the Gentiles, saying, “I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not: I said, Behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name.” (Isaiah 65:1). And this was affirmed in the Early Church, when they realised that God was calling the Gentiles, “Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things.” (Acts 15:14–17).
These kinds of statements are to be found everywhere, hidden in the Old, revealed in the New. “Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers: And that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name. And again he saith, Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people. And again, Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and laud him, all ye people. And again, Esaias saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust.” (Romans 15:8–12).
Astoundingly, Jesus says that national conversion is possible, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations … Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Matthew 28:19a, 20). Paul even says that great worldwide evangelism is certain to succeed, “Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it.” (Acts 28:28). It states, quite emphatically, that nations should be reduced to obedience, “But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith” (Romans 16:26).
History reveals that the trend of Gospel expansion from the Early Church did convert the Roman Empire, but the Gospel has not stopped. Heathen nations have been converted. The Reformation, Missionary Movement and Pentecostal Revival have had their impact.
From this, it can be rightly shown that the judgment of Christ has progressively advanced through history, the Gospel has not failed.
In Isaiah 42:3b, 4 it shows that, “he shall bring forth judgment unto truth. He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law.” In Matthew 12:20b, 21 it condenses this, saying, “till he send forth judgment unto victory. And in his name shall the Gentiles trust.”
The word “till” means it is progressive, and the promise was of the Gentiles trusting was not fulfilled in the Earthly ministry of Christ, but is being progressively fulfilled. The highpoint was not the fact that once the Roman Empire was converted, because the Bible is demanding continuous expansion. Matthew uses the Christian terminology, showing that trusting in the name of Christ is central, something which Gentiles have rightly done.
But the promise of Isaiah about the isles, if understood retrospectively from Matthew, would mean the Gospel. The use of the term “isles” also must be literal, not merely the fact of Gentiles generally (and the isles were inhabited by Gentiles), but that there must be specific fulfilment. Under the Roman Empire, the Gospel impacted the isles of Cyprus, Crete, Melita (Malta), Britain and Ireland. This is associated with the direct progress of Christianity from Christ through the Roman Empire and beyond.
Thus, the prophecy, as interpreted by the Holy Ghost in Matthew, means Christ, and points to the progress of Christianity to the Gentiles. But Isaiah’s prophecy has another scope, which is focused upon the Gospel coming to the isles, and that the isles had been prepared for it. He says that “the isles shall wait for his law.” (Isaiah 42:4b).
There is still an expected victory, and the indication is that the isles of certain Gentile nations are reserved for God’s special purposes. But the signs of Providence have been manifest, particularly with the grand impact of the Gospel throughout the world from the British Isles.
But the isles wait for His law. Which isles, but those of the South Pacific. It is those isles to whom God not only promised His Truth, but that they should be instrumental in the latter days or end time world evangelism.
Isaiah 42:5 says, “Thus saith God the LORD, he that created the heavens, and stretched them out; he that spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it; he that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein”.
And then, in the next verse, “I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles” (Isaiah 42:6).
Paul took this personally, “For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth. And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was published throughout all the region.” (Acts 13:47–49).
The prophecy which is about Jesus going to the nations was taken by Paul to mean the spreading of the Gospel by Christians, even to the “ends of the earth”. And what exactly was Paul referring to in the prophecy, but Isaiah 42:10–12, “Sing unto the LORD a new song, and his praise from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein; the isles, and the inhabitants thereof. Let the wilderness and the cities thereof lift up their voice, the villages that Kedar doth inhabit: let the inhabitants of the rock sing, let them shout from the top of the mountains. Let them give glory unto the LORD, and declare his praise in the islands.”
God’s praise from the ends of the earth, from the isles, and glory from the islands. This marks out that the Gospel was always supposed to come to Australia and New Zealand, and that there should be great preparation and outworking there, even for end time Gospel preaching, where there is world-reaching impact.